Defending champ says PGA Tour needs more John Deere Classics


Illinois is one of those few states to have both a PGA Tour and a LIV Tour tournament this year.  The friction between the two circuits is still there, but Sepp Straka downplayed it during the John Deere Classic’s annual Champions Day in Rock Island last week.

Straka will defend his title in Illinois’ only annual PGA Tour stop at TPC Deere Run in downstate Silvis July 1-7.

Elevated tournaments are trending on the PGA Tour as a response to the bigger purses, smaller fields and no-cut events on the Saudi-backed LIV circuit.  The JDC isn’t one of the elevated PGA stops. It remains a 156-player shootout with a cut after 36 holes and $8 million in prize money, a big drop from the PGA’s elevated events that offer purses in the $20 million range.

The LIV Tour, which also has prize funds in the $20 million range, returns for its third straight year on Sept. 13-15 but at a new site, Bolingbrook Golf Club replacing Rich Harvest Farms.  This year’s event will be the LIV’s season individual championship.

Negotiations between the PGA and LIV meanwhile remain in limbo and an agreement seems even more distant now that two members of the PGA’s negotiating group quit the board in frustration recently.

“It’s more sad for the golf fans than for us (players),’’ said Straka. “Hopefully things get moved a little bit, but it is a pretty slow process and I wouldn’t expect anything to happen in the next few months.’’

Don’t feel sorry for the JDC, however. In fact, Straka believes there should be more tournaments like it.

“The Tour needs more than elevated events,’’ he said.  “None of the stars ever started playing in elevated events when they first came out.  Very few of them had that status.  Stars are created by playing well in these tournaments (like the JDC) and moving up through the ranks. That’s why a lot of  guys still come to this one.  It’s a special place.’’

Straka was the star of last year’s JDC.  He had the gallery on 59-watch until he hit his approach to the final green into the water, leading to a double bogey.  He still won by two shots for his second PGA victory.  He won the last Honda Classic in Florida in 2022 before that tourney changed sponsors.

Last year Straka was runner-up in the British Open behind another former JDC winner, Brian Harman, and he also played on Europe’s winning Ryder Cup team. One of his Euro teammates, Sweden’s Ludvig Aberg, finished fourth in last year’s JDC.

Straka, who grew up in Austria before playing collegiately at Georgia, plans to play for Austria again in the Paris Olympics this summer. This year he tied for 16th in both The Players and Masters before missing the cut at the PGA Championship.

U.S. WOMEN’S OPEN: Red hot Nelly Korda, the LPGA’s No. 1-ranked player with six wins in her last seven starts,  will have challenges from two Chicago-connected players when Pennyslvania’s Lancaster Country Club hosts the 72-hole event beginning tomorrow (THURSDAY, MAY 30).

Both Elizabeth Szokol, of Winnetka, and Caroline Smith, of Inverness, survived qualifying tournaments to earn spots in the field.   Szokol is a regular on the LPGA Tour and teamed with Cheyenne Knight to win the circuit’s Dow Great Lakes Invitational last year.

Smith, an amateur, qualified at Briarwood, in Deerfield.  She started her collegiate career at Wake Forest, then transferred to Indiana and helped the Hoosiers to their first Big Ten title in 26 years with a tie for fourth finish as an individual.

HERE AND THERE: Two Chicago area teaching professionals – Jamie Fischer of Conway Farms and Nicole Jeray of Mistwood – finished tied for 11th and tied for 28th respectively in the LPGA Senior Championship in Utah.

Mt. Prospect’s Joe Cermak won the ninth Chicago District Mid-Amateur title at Elgin Country Club last week.  Cermak is director of admissions and assistant golf coach at St. Patrick’s, his high school alma mater.

Ground-breaking for a multi-year renovation of the 27 holes at Cantigny, in Wheaton, will be held at 9 a.m. tomorrow (THURSDAY, MAY 30).

Nancy Towers, of Downers Grove, was an early qualifier for the U.S. Adaptive Open, a championship for the world’s best golfers with disabilities.  She advanced through an Indiana qualifying event.  The main event is July 8-10 in Kansas.